Saturday, December 29, 2012

BC2012: Route 66 Still Kicks by Rick Antonson

In 1990 I drove old Route 66 out to Los Angeles in my first solo cross-country trip. I wrote a long essay/short book about that trip after I got home, and I hope to finally put it online in 2013. Perhaps it was in anticipation of publishing my own story that I picked up Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America's Main Street at the Book Cellar last month.

This book is framed as a road trip travelogue of Antonson's drive on Route 66 with a friend, but he weaves many historical tales about the road into the narrative. I've read a lot of books about Route 66 over the past 20-odd years, and I am always amazed at how many new stories each writer finds there. Certain famous people are always mentioned, such as John Steinbeck, Bobby Troup, and Will Rogers, and Antonson somehow teases out new details about these legends and their connection to the old road (ditto for oft-noted places like Times Beach). But he also finds other stories along the way, such as the kidnapping of Olive Oatman and a grisly murder in a small Oklahoma town. And of course there are the characters they encounter in their own journey.

This is the second book I've read this year about a Canadian driving through America. The first, Breakfast at the Exit Cafe, left a sour taste in my mouth, perhaps in part because the authors were constantly reminding the reader that they were Canadian (as well as constantly reminding the reader that the U.S. once had slavery). This book is quite the opposite. I think Antonson's residence in Vancouver is only mentioned outside of the story (the "about the author" page and back cover blurb), and I don't think I ever learned his friend's nationality. Perhaps the author recognized that on a highway beloved and traveled by thousands of Europeans and Japanese every year, nationality is irrelevant.

I enjoyed this book even more than I expected and learned quite a bit, which is saying something for a topic I already knew a lot about. I still consider Michael Wallis' Route 66: The Mother Road to be the best book about the highway, an exceptional combination of rich storytelling and dazzling color photography (as well as the book that led to the route's revival), but Route 66 Still Kicks is one of the better runners-up.

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